Monthly Archives: December 2011

ERCOT Reliability: “It’s Complicated”

This commentary was originally posted on the EDF Texas Clean Air Matters Blog.

It seems like only yesterday that ERCOT was issuing dire warnings of rolling blackouts as a direct result of regulations required by the court system to ensure cleaner, healthy air for Texans and our neighboring states.  Well, maybe not yesterday, but at least as recently as this month.  Buried deep within the report was ERCOT’s tacit acknowledgement that they have allowed companies to idle more than 1,000 MW of power plants because those plants are not economic in today’s hyper-competitive market.

Source: Texas Tribune

Of course, no announcement made as much news as Luminant’s claim that they were shutting down two of their Monticello lignite power plant units in response to EPA regulations.  Those claims have been pretty well debunked over the last few months as people began to realize that market economics and poor planning were responsible for Luminant’s decision.  As we discussed in September, it was as convenient for Luminant to blame the EPA as it was reflexive of Texas politicians and regulators to threaten rolling blackouts as a result of Luminant’s decision.  ERCOT’s decision to let other power plants shut down for economic reasons calls those claims into serious question, and their recent decision (password required) that idling the Monticello units at the heart of this debate  does not threaten system reliability will hopefully end this cycle of unfounded recrimination and backtracking.

As ERCOT has made clear, the real threats to system reliability are of our own making: market failures have lead to a lack of proper signals to encourage the building of new power capacity; and this year’s record breaking drought, made more extreme by climate change, has threatened to shut down more than 11,000 MW of power plants.  What all of this means is that ERCOT’s reliability issues are far more complicated than a political slogan, and getting rid of sensible regulations that protect our children, elderly and general population from real health risks will do nothing to solve our problems. 

Instead of focusing on the easy political score, our leaders should be looking for real solutions that don’t pose risks to human health or to our water supply.  The solutions are out there: dry-cooled power plants, energy efficiency programs like demand response, as well as wind, solar and other non-water consuming renewable energy. 

The most recent decision by ERCOT that idling Luminant’s power plants poses no threat to grid reliability should end the cycle of unfounded accusations for political gain.  It should focus our state leadership on solutions that will work instead of distractions that only delay solving the problem.  It should also serve as a signal to those who are all too ready to accept unfounded claims for the sake of a good story or a convenient target. When it comes to ERCOT and reliability, the issues are complicated, but the solutions are out there and it will take real focus and effort to prevent Texas from experiencing the same rolling blackouts we had last winter.  It’s winter again (even if it’s just barely starting to feel like it), and next summer looks to be another scorcher. We don’t have a lot of time, so let’s get to work.

Posted in Grid Modernization, Texas / Tagged | Comments are closed

A Response To Attacks On Renewable Energy

Grover Norquist asks us to “rethink” renewable energy, and I think he may be right.  But we differ on the best way to do that.

He seems to think that Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) and similar policies that level the playing field and create markets for renewable energy are “unfeasible,” as opposed to the current subsidies and rules that heavily favor fossil fuels.  In his op-ed, Norquist manages to wax poetic about free markets while dodging the billions of dollars in subsidies for fossil fuels and numerous impartial analyses that illustrate how renewable energy saves money for customers and adds much needed revenue to state budgets.

Obscuring the Facts
A recent analysis found that the five states with the highest amount of renewable energy (states that are encouraged by the policies Norquist asks us to rethink) have lower electric rates than the states with the least amounts of renewable energy.  In 2009 the Texas PUC declared that the state’s national leadership in wind energy, driven by their RPS, “has had the impact of lowering wholesale and retail prices of electricity.”  The Texas State Comptroller said, “After the RPS was implemented, Texas wind corporations and utilities invested $1 billion in wind power, creating jobs, adding to the Texas Permanent School Fund and increasing the rural tax base.”

The story is similar in Colorado where, according to the American Wind Energy Association, the state’s RPS supported a total of 5,000-6,000 direct and indirect jobs, generating $7 million in state revenue and $4 million in leasing revenue for landowners who benefit from the policy.  Still, Norquist chooses to focus on a report – not yet released at the time of this writing – by the Beacon Hill Institute, a conservative group founded by Republican politician Ray Shamie, to support some rather speculative claims.  

“Choose Your Own Free Market”
Much like the old “Choose Your Own Adventure” children’s books, the fossil fuel industry would very much like to choose their own free market, one that gives fossil fuels an unfair advantage over all other resources.  Leaving the discussion there would simply perpetuate the junk science cycle that benefits the fossil fuel industry and their attempts to distract from the massive amounts of federal subsidies that these companies claim they need to continue operations.  A discussion on their terms would ignore the very real health impacts fossil fuel use has on infants, pregnant women, the elderly and the general population.   

Fossil fuel use directly impacts human health and we subsidize fossil fuels heavily through increasing health care costs and other expenses. A recent report from Harvard Medical School found that these unwitting subsidies cost us $345 billion annually in emergency room visits, health impacts, loss of life and loss of tourism income among other impacts.  A true free market is one in which industry takes responsibility for the costs it imposes on society.  In this sense, the fossil fuels industry has failed miserably.

Growing Faster Than the Rest of the Economy
While fossil fuels have increasingly clear health costs, the ways in which clean energy production helps the U.S. economy are becoming clearer as well.  According to a study from the non-partisan Brookings Institute, renewable energy jobs – and clean tech jobs in general – have grown at a much faster pace than the rest of the U.S. economy, driven largely by state policies like the RPS (the only exception being hydropower).  Solar jobs alone have doubled in the U.S. to 100,000 since 2009; many of these local installation and service jobs cannot be exported.  Last year alone, U.S. solar energy installations created a combined $6 billion in direct value, $4 billion of which was accrued to the U.S.  Furthermore, Jackie Roberts, Director of Sustainable Technologies at EDF, recently wrote that the U.S. was a significant net exporter of solar energy products when the entire value chain is accounted for, with total net exports of $2 billion in 2010.

A Non-Partisan Issue
Perhaps it’s wishful thinking on Norquist’s part, but he certainly knows about renewable energy’s long history as a non-partisan issue – one where nationally recognized conservative Republicans like Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback have publicly supported the same policies that Norquist decries.  Polls across the country show strong voter support for renewable energy, reaching across political ideology and party lines.  In fact, the most recent Republican President and the previous Governor of Texas created the most successful Renewable Portfolio Standard in the country and reportedly consider it one of their proudest achievements in Texas.  Speaking in Dallas last year at the American Wind Energy Association’s annual conference, former President Bush noted that “when we diversify our energy supply, we create jobs.”

Mr. Norquist asks us to rethink renewable energy, and I think he may be right. Recently, fossil fuel industry-funded attacks on renewable energy have grown, which makes me think they are beginning to feel the pressure from cleaner renewable energy with no fuel cost.  Pseudo scientific claims like those found in Norquist’s op-ed make front page news while the incredible growth rates of renewable energy projects and jobs in the U.S. barely make the back page, which leads me to believe that the media is more focused on reporting controversy than facts.  The public remains committed to clean energy, while public officials waver, seeking to catch the political wind.  All of this makes me think that we need to recommit to a cleaner energy future with less pollution, healthier children and more local jobs.

Posted in Renewable Energy / Tagged | Read 2 Responses

First Of Its Kind Non-Profit Network On Carbon Capture And Sequestration Launched

Last week, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), along with eight other environmental advocacy organizations, announced the launch of the Environmental NGO Network on Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) – a collaborative effort to ensure domestic and international policies and regulations allowing for CCS ensure that the highest standards are met for public safety, atmospheric and environmental protection.

Right now, CCS projects are being developed by some of the world’s biggest energy and oil companies, and international negotiations are looking to provide carbon credit opportunities for use in carbon control regulations.  The CCS Network will serve as a communications medium between EDF and other member environmental organizations as we work towards a responsible CCS industry, enabling the world’s top experts from the NGO community to contribute and share ideas. 

New CCS projects represent an opportunity for long term carbon reductions, though they must adhere to best operational and environmental standards to enable long-term success.  The CCS Network will work together to find common ground on CCS-related efforts and work toward ensuring responsible development.

For more information about the network, visit:

Posted in General / Tagged | Comments are closed

Colorado Sets The Bar On Hydraulic Fracturing Chemical Disclosure

Big news out of Denver this morning

Source: WLF

After weeks of intense wrangling between industry and environmental representatives, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) adopted a hydraulic fracturing fluid chemical disclosure rule that, in many ways, serves as a model for the nation.

It’s been a learning process these last couple of years – as EDF has worked to get disclosure policies adopted in the states.  With their own disclosure rules, Wyoming, Arkansas, Texas and Montana have all made important contributions to the debate.  And in Colorado, we’re finally seeing things start to coalesce.

Colorado’s Rule 205A settles key questions about what kinds of information the public expects to see and how the information should be presented, including:

Requirements for Searchable Database

Picking up on a recommendation from the shale gas subcommittee of the U.S. Secretary of Energy Advisory Board (a panel on which EDF President Fred Krupp served), the Colorado rule requires chemical information to be made available on a website that allows people to search and sort data by company, chemical ingredient, geographic area and other criteria.

This is a big step that will allow land owners, neighbors, regulators and policymakers to focus and refine their questions and research about hydraulic fracturing.

We’re also fans of the fact that the rule requires operators to post their disclosures on Frac Focus, which must be made searchable by January 1, 2013.  If Frac Focus doesn’t have these upgrades in place by then (or isn’t clearly on a path to do so), the rule requires the COGCC to build its own searchable database.

The creators of Frac Focus – the Ground Water Protection Council (GWPC) and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC) – are already talking about searchability, and the Colorado rule provides a clear signal that the states want to see it happen and happen soon.

(The Texas disclosure rule, which was also adopted today, uses Frac Focus as the disclosure platform, but doesn’t require searchability.  In adopting the rule, the Texas Railroad Commission agreed that Frac Focus should be made searchable and said it would work with GWPC and IOGCC to make those upgrades).

Full Disclosure of Chemical Ingredients

Colorado also set a national standard by requiring disclosure of the identities and concentrations of all chemical ingredients, not just those that have been determined to be “hazardous” according to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations.  Other states have taken the step of requiring disclosure of the identities of all chemicals, but Colorado is the first to require disclosure of both chemical identities and concentrations for all chemicals.

As readers of our blog posts on fracturing fluid disclosure know, just because a chemical hasn’t been identified as “hazardous” under OSHA Hazard Communication rules, it doesn’t necessarily mean the chemical isn’t dangerous.  OSHA regulations require that chemicals be identified as hazardous when studies show they could be dangerous in a workplace setting.  These regulations don’t look at the question of whether a chemical might be dangerous if exposure occurs through an environmental pathway.  Moreover, a chemical might be dangerous in both a workplace setting and through environmental exposure – but if the studies haven’t been done yet, OSHA regulations don’t require you to list it as hazardous.

According to industry, at least half of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluids don’t fall under these OSHA Hazard Communication rules.  And toxicological data on many, if not most, of these chemicals is very thin.  So requiring full disclosure of hydraulic fracturing chemicals is a critical first step toward building up our understanding of the risks they may present.

The Colorado disclosure rule isn’t perfect, but it’s darn good.  And with the provisions for searchability and full chemical disclosure, it has set a national standard on two key issues.

Posted in Natural Gas / Read 1 Response

Pecan Street Named #1 Electric Vehicle Initiative Of The Year

Since this blog post was published, Pecan Street was also named one of Smart Grid News’ Smart Grid Winners of 2011.

Source: Pecan Street

As the Christmas season revs up and a New Year fast approaches, you may have noticed the sentimental commercials of couples giving each other new cars amidst snowy scenes and jolly music or well-choreographed salespeople urging you to shop the dealership as eager car companies showcase their new model year offerings. This happens every year around this time, some obviously more ridiculous than others. But with each year as more hybrid and electric vehicles join the marketplace, these companies are touting their environmental acumen as much as their sleek body styles and luxurious interiors. While there are still hurdles to overcome, the age of electric vehicles (EV) is beginning.

2012 will see the 100% gas-free Ford Focus, now taking reservations, Mitsubishi’s MiEV’s as the cheapest offering in the EV market, and the all electric Honda Fit, released initially as lease only until 2013. With a limited supply of Fits coming to the US, Engadget even suggests “you may want to add your local Honda dealer to the holiday card list — it certainly can’t hurt your chances of getting Fit next summer.” One analyst believes by “model year 2015, the new car market will have 108 electric-drive models.” And a University of California at Berkeley study predicts that by 2030, 64% of light vehicle sales in the US will be EV. Read More »

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EDF Releases Ten Recommendations For The First Offshore CCS Projects In Texas

On December 2nd, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) completed a 2-year long research project funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to support a University of Texas (UT) project to find suitable sites to sequester carbon dioxide below ground in Texas’ offshore state waters.   The research report, which directs site selection, anticipates environmental risks and provides recommendations during project siting and development, was generated to safely and efficiently guide offshore carbon capture and geologic sequestration (CCS) projects to minimize risks to human health and the environment.

Source: Southeast Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnership Region

Given that a CCS project off the coast of Texas would likely be the first of its kind in U.S. history, the report offers valuable insight to help guide a future demonstration project which may open the door to a potentially huge CCS industry.  In 2010, the U.S. DOE evaluated the gulf coast region and found vast potential for storing CO2 in deep saline formations (underground salt-water deposits) as well as in depleted oil and gas fields throughout the area.  Similarly, in 2006 the University of Texas evaluated geologic formations across the coastal region, finding exceptional geology for engaging in CCS projects.

EDF’s recommendations, included in Section VII or the report, provide guidelines for use in site selection and development for offshore CCS projects in Texas, including:

  • Following threshold standards to avoid negative effects on human health or coastal natural resources;
  • Taking an overall precautionary approach wherever possible;
  • Performing site-specific evaluations within the full zone of potential impact, even if not required by law;
  • Choosing sites with the least potential for leakage;
  • Applying recently adopted U.S. EPA rules for groundwater protection even if not required by law;
  • Locating sites as far from shorelines and existing aquifers as feasible;
  • Reusing or collocating equipment new project footprints;
  • Selecting back-up sites where possible;
  • Developing site specific monitoring, verification, accounting, and reporting plan; and
  • Evaluating feasible mitigation measure prior to site operation.

To complete the research project, EDF energy and oceans experts performed an in-depth look into the current state of the Texas gulf coast environment and extrapolated lessons learned from operations analogous to CCS to analyze the potential for impact and recommend ways to mitigate overall risk.   EDF used examples and best management practices developed for offshore oil drilling, onshore enhanced oil recovery, acid gas and wastewater injection, and offshore CCS projects in other countries to make its suite of recommendations.

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